20 November 2018

Women, Hitler and the Inevitability of Progres

Progress is inevitable.

As someone who loves history I've come to believe that certain things are inevitable. Once the telegraph had been developed, someone would eventually find a way to push voices down the wires and allow conversation. Alexander Graham Bell was the first to file a patent for a telephone and then, hours later, Elisha Gray tried to file a patent for a telephone.  Had neither Bell nor Gray been born, we would still have had a telephone. It was inevitable.

Hitler was not inevitable. No one had to step into power in Europe and derail progress, tipping the world into so much madness and evil. Yet even Hitler illustrates the inevitability of progress.

Hitler killed 6 million Jews. It was one of the greatest horrors of the last century, this systematic killing of a people. But he made it even worse. By far. Hitler - in league with Mussolini and Hirohito - started a war of conquest that killed 50 - perhaps s many as 80 - million people. It was the mass manufacture of death.

Hitler's beliefs have still not completely died. Neo-Nazis are not done killing people, even if it never approaches a fraction of the scale of Hitler's madness.

Hitler was awful, not inevitable, and left behind a trail of destruction.

The Allies response to him? Accelerated progress. Technological and Social.

New products that came out of World War 2 include penicillin, the programmable computer, a jet engine, and radar.

Less obviously, production and quality methods came out of this that helped to raise productivity during the 1940s and probably for the rest of the century. Three of the business thinkers who most influenced my understanding of business and were heard and read by millions - Peter Drucker, Russell Ackoff, and W. Edwards Deming - all were involved in the war effort and carried lessons from that time into work with clients into the 21st century.

Hitler did not just accelerate progress in technology and production processes. He actually accelerated social progress.

In the US, men went off to war and women were brought into workplaces. (Management expected productivity to drop when this happened. Instead it rose. They investigated to understand why and what they discovered was .... when assigned to work on a new machine, women asked questions about how it worked. That was it. That was the difference that accounted for the productivity gain.)

To win the war, the US was eager to have as many able-bodied men as they could. This included minorities and this effort at integration did not end with the war. WWII ended in the Fall of 1945 and by the Spring of 1947, Jackie Robinson began playing major league baseball.

Hitler probably accelerated the development of medical care, aviation, computing, racial integration and women gaining more rights. He arguably caused more pain than anyone in the last century and yet .... even all that seemed to give progress more of a boost. (Let me be clear that we could have done this anyways and far less painfully. Probably not as quickly, though. Once we learn to follow the lead of intrinsic, rather than extrinsic, motivation progress will move along at a good clip and not be in reaction to crisis.)

Hillary Clinton came so very close to becoming our first woman president, losing a marathon race by half a second. Now, in the first election after her loss, there have been a record number of women elected to congress. (And still counting. It looks like the 116th Congress will rather fittingly have 116 women. One can only hope that their progress towards representing half of the 435 won't take another 200 years.) Many of these women were motivated by Trump's election and Clinton's loss. It is distinctly possible that the election of a man who bragged about just grabbing pussy because he was a star will actually lead to more women in power than we might have otherwise had.

Progress has a direction. More people have more freedom to live a life of their own choosing. They get access to inventions technological and social. We invent cool things like church and state, cars and planes. That makes life better. Then we figure out how to let more people use these cool things. Religious freedom and democracy, Ford's factory line and commercial air eventually give the everyday person access to these great inventions that once were tools reserved for the elites. Progress continues to create more  possibilities and then offer those to more people.

I'm more appalled at Trump than most people I know. I think he already has created so much unnecessary grief and could be responsible for far more. That said, if even Hitler could not derail progress, there is no way that a man as simple-minded and emotionally needy as Don is going to. All these women winning elections is just the first good thing to come out of his presidency.

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